WEST (CBSDFW.COM) – For the first time since a fertilizer plant explosion ten days ago, the neighbors closest to it got to go home today—but only for a little while. Their homes in what’s called zone-3 are still just too unsafe. People and trailers could be seen leaving the outbound check point for zone-3 in droves. They had to leave by 7pm Saturday because the homes inside not safe to be inside, and there’s a curfew.
“It can be overwhelming,” said John Crowder who packed up some of his belonging to start again. He’s the pastor of West’s First Baptist Church, but he’s also a victim. His home is inside zone 3. Emotions are whipsawn. “I guess there are two reactions, one is just chaos because the first time any of us has been able to be in there for any time at all, so everybody’s trying to get everything done at once. Construction folks are running crazy, trailers are running crazy, so it’s just kind of nuts. And the other thing is for many folks it’s the first time they’ve seen the devastation.”
He told CBS 11 News about his initial trip home. “Walking up to the house was almost devastating, it was depressing, sad; just a terrible loss. Once I got in, I was able to look around and my emotions turned the other way because most of my belongings are going to be okay….the house looks horrible, but the stuff inside looks okay for the most part, you know, we’ll be able to clean it up.” He talked about the capriciousness of the blast. “It’s just strange. It looks like a tornado hit our community and yet the trees are still standing, which is weird to see the destruction and trees.”
Crowder and his congregation are grateful that strangers care. Volunteers come to West from all over. Two women from the Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas were in zone-3 to help a family start again. “We were helping them move in. Sweeping, cleaning, packing up. And washing dishes,” said Terri Beltran. Kateland Martinez added, “Just walking down the street you could see they’re just trying to get back on their feet and it’s really sad. It’s really sad because you can’t put yourself in their shoes but you can try really hard to understand. ”
Baptist Disaster Relief and Texas Baptist men seem to be everywhere. They’re headquartered at Crowder’s church, as if he didn’t have enough going on already. Still, he and his staff make sure no one returns to zone-3 alone. Phil Immicke is the associate pastor. He says they provide spiritual counseling. “Obviously we’re not licensed counselors by any means. But we can sit down and listen to someone and say, “We love you and we care for you, and we’re here for you. And whatever you need come in and talk to us.” He also remarked on the irony of his community now needing help. “We’re overwhelmed. We are a servant community, and it’s an awkward feeling to be served.”
First Baptist church didn’t lose any members, but other churches did. On Saturday there were final farewells for one of West’s heroes. 45-year-old Buck Uptmore was laid to rest following his funeral at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. There’s a time for mourning, then a time for rebuilding with the help of people to lean on. Pastor Crowder is glad to have that help. “It’s amazing the power of presence, just having someone with you when you face stuff like this makes a huge difference.”
The checkpoint into zone 3 opens again at 7 o’clock Sunday morning.
First Baptist Church of West, Texas can be found at http://www.fbcwest.com
Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas can be found through Catholic Daughters of the Americas at http://www.texascda.org